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City Council Questions Con Ed on Cause of ‘Astoria Borealis,’ Discusses Greener Options for Future

The “Astoria Borealis” as seen from 38th Street and 20th Avenue (Photo: Jamie-Faye Bean)

Feb. 11, 2019 By Meghan Sackman

Con Edison officials were grilled at a city council hearing yesterday about the cause of the blue flash that lit up the sky at the company’s Astoria plant in December.

Councilmember Costa Constantinides, who led the hearing as chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, asked what Con Ed was doing to prevent another ‘Astoria Borealis,’ an event that shook up the region and even caused the temporary closure of LaGuardia Airport.

Constantinides said the event added to his argument that more effort needs to be made to produce renewable energy, and also questioned Con Ed officials about their plans to a shift to greener technology.

“This blue light was a spotlight shining a light on the challenges that our communities in Queens share every single day,” Constantinides said at the hearing. He said that the plants continue to pollute the air, leading to health problems for the NYCHA residents who live nearby.

Representatives from Con Ed explained that the exact cause of the blue flash was an electrical equipment malfunction at the substation. The malfunction, they said, caused the arc flash that lit the sky.

Councilmember Costa Constantinides before the City Council hearing (Instagram)

Con Ed also emphasized that the incident would have occurred even if the energy was generated by renewable sources.

“It is important to know that this incident would have occurred regardless of how the electricity was generated,” Con Ed’s Vice President for Central Operations Milovan Blair said, going on to explain that substations don’t generate electricity but simply convert it to a lower voltage that is usable by households.

Action that was taken to prevent further incidents of this nature, and options for a greener future were also discussed.

“So far, we have replaced the faulty equipment…and we are working directly with the manufacturer to minimize the chance of this happening again,” said Con Ed’s Vice President for Central Operations Milovan Blair.

“We sincerely apologize and deeply regret this disruption to our customers and the concern and confusion caused by this visibility,” Blair said.

Blair said that Con Ed is in full support of transitioning to cleaner energy. “We believe that through careful planning…and the strategic use of new technologies we can build an energy system that will be cleaner and more efficient.”


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